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A shareholder lawsuit against Bridgestone Corp. over money lost after the company’s Firestone brand tires were involved in hundreds of fatal crashes can continue, a federal appeals court has ruled. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision released Friday in Cincinnati overturns much of a lower court’s decision to throw out the lawsuit, which contends Bridgestone and its Nashville-based subsidiary Bridgestone-Firestone made fraudulent statements about the tire problems. The lawsuits, which had been consolidated, were filed in January 2001 in Nashville by a pension fund for Monroe, Mich., city employees and a Colorado woman. In allowing the lawsuit to go forward, the three-judge panel said the plaintiffs face a number of hurdles in proving that the company knowingly deceived shareholders. The case was sent back to district court in Nashville for the shareholders to prove the connections. Company spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak stressed the appeals judges’ order simply returned the case back to the lower court for further review, and did not rule on the substance of the case. “We firmly believe plaintiffs’ allegations are without merit and we will vigorously defend this suit as it proceeds through the legal system,” she said. The shareholders sued over information in annual reports from 1996-1999 and in a statement issued Aug. 1, 2000. The court agreed with the tiremaker that most of what the plaintiffs cited was “immaterial puffery.” But it held that a jury could conclude there were misrepresentations in a portion of the August statement referring to “objective data” indicating Firestone tires were safe and in portions of the 1999 annual report that said no losses or impairment to the company were expected. At least 271 people were reported killed and hundreds more injured in accidents involving Firestone ATX tires, and the company recalled 17 million of them shortly after issuing the August 2000 statement. The company has spent more than $1 billion on recall-related costs. The ruling comes two days after another decision went against the company in a consumer case filed against Japan-based Bridgestone for faulty tires. On Wednesday, a Riverside, Calif., judge agreed to consider a plaintiff’s bid to pursue a national class action lawsuit claiming defects in Firestone Steeltex tires. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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